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Cuomo: NY City And State Colleges Will Keep Diversity Policies

Composite image by Dave Lucas/WAMC

After the Trump administration said the federal government will let schools leave race out of admission decisions, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed New York's state university system to continue policies that promote racial diversity among students.

In a letter stating "The new federal action should have no bearing on admission policies and should not interfere with SUNY's and CUNY's commitment to a diverse and inclusive student body," Cuomo gives the chairmen of the boards of trustees of the City University of New York and State University of New York an August 15 deadline to compile a report on how they'll increase diversity on campuses.

  • The full text of the letter is available by scrolling to the bottom of this article.

The Democratic said the SUNY system has long embraced diversity and encouraged social mobility. He noted that nearly half of SUNY students are minorities and called the White House’s action "a blatant attempt to limit the participation of minorities in higher education."
University at Albany spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist says 42 percent of the incoming freshman class hails from groups historically underrepresented in higher education.   "That's something that we're enormously proud of. Our record of attracting retaining and graduating students from those communities. Other folks have taken notice of that too.In years past The Education Trust has identified UAlbany as a top performer nation ally for both African American and Latino/Latina students' success. So not only are we adept at attracting students from these groups to attend our university, but they get here, they stay here and they succeed, and we're really tremendously proud of that. And for all those reasons are why we stand really strongly with the governor and SUNY in their commitment to fostering this inclusive learning environment which we know from experience is absolutely critical to academic and research excellence."

Not everyone agrees. The Washington-based National Center for Public Policy Research is siding with Trump:   Project 21 black leadership network member Dr. Carol Swain is a former professor at Vanderbilt and Princeton.   "As a black woman, I've always felt that acceptance to higher education should be merit-based and means tested. I believe that President Trump is wise to rescind the aggressive Obama-era affirmative action directive for the use of race and ethnicity in student admissions. These are affecting colleges and universities as well as K-12 education. The Obama directive, while well-intended, resulted in blatant discrimination against Asians and non-protected races and ethnicities."

Swain argues current policy is more of a detriment to minority students' success than a helping hand in navigating the education system. Project 21 recently released its "Blueprint for a Better Deal for Black America" recommending schools be required to meet minimum graduation rate standards for both general and minority student populations to be eligible for federal student financial aid, among other ideas.

Meantime, University at Buffalo college access expert Nathan Daun-Barnett tells Spectrum News there have been about a half-dozen Supreme Court challenges connected to affirmative action over the last two decades, and he believes colleges and universities have already shaped their practices those decisions.  N B "I don't think the challenges will come until the Supreme Court is filled again. You know, Justice Kennedy was the swing vote. And likely would have been in this case as well. So they'll wait to see what happens with this ninth appointment."

Carleo-Evangelist  says UAlbany's diversity inclusion is one of the five priorities in its recently completed strategic plan.  "And that plan is going to guide our efforts over the next five years as we try to celebrate these individual differences that make our student body so diverse, but at the same time, promote constructive dialog about those differences and the exchange of ideas. And if we do that right, and we sure intend to, that would impact not just our campus but the community beyond our campus. We're really proud of the success that UAlbany has had to date in attracting and retaining and graduating a really diverse student body from across the spectrum."

Below is the full text of Cuomo's letter to the CUNY and SUNY chairmen of the boards of trustees:

Dear Chairman McCall and Chairman Thompson,

The Trump administration's move to rescind the guidelines on using race in college admissions is a blatant attempt to limit the participation of minorities in higher education.  It is part of a troubling trend by the President and his administration to alienate minorities and build walls to diversity and equal participation in society.

As you know, this issue has been going through the courts since 1978 (Regents of the University of California V. Bakke), most recently with the 2016 decision in Fisher V. University of Texas. The courts have determined that diversity is a valuable and allowable part of higher education.

New York's two university systems have long been bastions of diversity and engines of social mobility. SUNY is nearly 45% minority and CUNY is 76% minority.  This diversity broadens understanding and breaks down barriers and stereotypes, and it ensures all New Yorkers have the opportunity to succeed. 

In this state, we embrace diversity and we encourage it. I am directing you to continue your existing diversity and inclusion plans. The new federal action should have no bearing on admission policies and should not interfere with SUNY's and CUNY's commitment to a diverse and inclusive student body.

In addition, I am directing you to reexamine your existing plans to ensure these plans are furthering New York's goals of diversity and inclusion. To that end, SUNY and CUNY should each prepare a report due by August 15, 2018 outlining how they will expand and increase diversity representation on our campuses. 

The Trump administration wants to take this country backwards, but in New York we are moving forward. We will continue to work together to dismantle barriers to social and economic mobility and extend the promise of equal opportunity to all New Yorkers.


Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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